Form und Function
While studying composition in Germany, I fell in love with musical forms. Theme and variation, sonata, canon, fugue, spiral, recursive, Fibonacci, fractal … I took them all in, like divine templates. Unfortunately, my love of form ended up trumping my love of sound, and my pieces grew ever more brilliant on paper and dull in performance – a sorry state for a composer to end up in.
My road to recovery began with a quote from an ancient Japanese treatise on aesthetics: “Form is a cage to trap meaning.” This quote changed my compositional life. Rather than approaching form as an end in itself I began to see it as a means to an end – a vehicle for expression; a way to communicate thought, emotion and self. Form, for me, became functional, not merely formal.
The forms you use can make or break your pieces. A meterless improv ramble is fine for experimental music, but disastrous for trance. A loopy 4/4 ABA is good for house, but utterly wrong for glitch. Locking a panther in a sterile 5×3 meter cage will drain its power and beauty and eventually kill it. The same panther might thrive in a 50×30 meter cage with a dense, jungly environment.
Every composition calls for its own unique form, its own lovingly crafted and custom-fitted cage. As the composer, you need to discover this form for each of your pieces and have the courage to use it, even if it violates musical expectation and fashion. The alternative is a 5×3 killing jar.